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2008 Mercedes S350 Exquisite!

Published: Sunday | November 23, 2008

Mario James, Gleaner Writer

If you have got the means, here is the icing on the cake. The 2008 Mercedes S-Class, priced at $20 million.

FOR THE people who can afford it, this car is about presence. Mercedes knows how to stoke emotion; they've been building their brand for more than a century. If it were for plebeians like me, the S-Class would not have a reason to exist (aside from the fact that I have perennially shallow pockets). I can't feel the need to be so pampered. Maybe I think I don't deserve it.

But the monied of this world have no such shortcomings. For them, the S-Class is more than transportation - having such an instrument defines them, it is more of an extension of their persona, a signature, a calling card, as it were. It is a statement of affluence, and as such has a value far beyond money.

And because of this it has to be the very best.

Rules of ownership

The S-Class interior. Sophistication simplified. - Photos by Mario James

However, there are rules regarding the ownership of this car. As the Mercedes flagship, it cannot leave its occupants stranded on the side of the road. If, for any reason, the 'S' 'fails to proceed', its dealer will be summoned and a utility vehicle despatched immediately to bring it back to the bowels of the dealership. And on said 'utility vehicle', the car will be covered before the trek home has begun. Heady stuff, this.

This particular S- the 350 model (equipped with a 3.5-litre 24-valve V6) is the first limousine that Automotives has driven. Not that it fits the mould, as it isn't a very long car. But let the interior envelope you, close the servo-shut door and a metamorphosis takes place. Mercedes has suddenly transported you to a penthouse suite at the Ritz.

Like that suite, 'S' occupants are so isolated from road and wind noise that you might as well be miles above the road surface. Yon country bus has to blow long and hard to intrude upon this inner sanctum. Alone, if you care to drive - instead of being driven - at toll road speeds one can hear the dash clock tick.

Old-world charm interior

The interior is old-world charm. That clock, for instance, is square - and analog. The dash gauges only look conventional. In reality, the dash pod is one large video display unit, with an auxiliary VDU for the COMAND system.

This frees the centre console from button overload - you have lives to save or budgets to project, yes? Mercedes doesn't want you reaching for a button to turn on the stereo. Their COMAND system is intuitive - the knob feels like a joystick - and the entire car can be tailored to suit your needs.

Seas of lush hide adorn doors and seats, separated by slivers of highly burnished, rich, earthy wood ensconced with chrome accents and seat controls.

Powered headrests

The headrests are powered, and the seat squab can be adjusted to the length of one's femur. The side bolsters are automatically adjusted during hard cornering, to keep occupants in check. The seats can be ordered with a massage option; an option our tester was not equipped with. I guess there are levels of perfection.

At night, the big Merc gets down to business on the technology front - on command, the gauge pod becomes a night vision 'scope; the range of which far exceeds what the bi-xenon headlights can illuminate.

'S' can also be ordered with a system called DISTRONIC, which automatically calculates the optimum distance (using the Doppler effect) between itself and the car in front, based on speed and other parameters - and maintains this distance electronically. It is one thing to see this on paper, but to witness the system at work in the real world is something else - like cruise control on steroids. As Forest Gump said, "... one less thing ... "

Drive characteristics

The ride and drive characteristics of this 4235-lb land yacht are umber worldly. There are three transmission/chassis settings; comfort, sport and manual. Comfort is pillow mode; sport firms up the shocks and raises the shift points of the seven speed tranny (no CVT, seven actual gears) and manual, by doing all of the above plus redrawing a fuel map or two and handing over shifting duties to two diminutive floppy paddles behind the steering - simply turns it into the most exquisite hot rod this side of a Bentley Continental.

Jumping on the go pedal sets free what must be the raunchiest 268 horses ever to step out of a corral.

At first, the car's weight seems to blunt the effort that the 24 valver is making, but no - that's just traction control. Turn it off, and if the windows are down, one first sees the smoke develop from the 275 35 20 donuts on AMG alloys before we hear the torture - front wheels steer, here, and rear wheels fry under 270 lb ft and a humungous first gear. 100 km/h comes up two gear changes later about 6.7 seconds later, which is phenomenal for a two tonne luxo-cruiser.

Wind up the window, though, and the effect of speed is so muted, the platform so stable that 60 mph feels like 30; at the toll limit the car was rock solid, and feeding the car into the airport road sweepers just confirmed how neutral, how special this set-up is. It truly is a special kind of motoring.

So what does all that umber green buy you? More than can be described by 1,000 words, three pictures and some newsprint.


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